'Part of the family': Inside the homes of Brits who've taken in Ukrainians

·17 min read
(L-R) Mum of three Nicole Ross with son Warren and daughter Lucy, Ukrainian mum Mila with son Nazar and daughter Tonya, and Nicole's daughter Taylor far right. (Reach)
(L-R) Mum of three Nicole Ross with son Warren and daughter Lucy, Ukrainian mum Mila with son Nazar and daughter Tonya, and Nicole's daughter Taylor far right. (Reach)

Since Russian's military action displaced huge numbers of Ukrainians, families across Britain have welcomed refugees into their homes in a bid to help them as they flee their war-torn country.

The government's Homes for Ukraine scheme - which opened for visa applications three months ago - has faced some controversy, amid claims some refugees have been left homeless as relationships with their host families have broken down.

But for many who have offered up their homes to Ukrainians, the experience has been a hugely positive one.

From welcoming entire families, to helping siblings reunite, or providing a place for Ukrainian refugees to start a new life, finding work in the UK and getting their children settled into schools, Brits who have given up their spare rooms to help out say they would do it again in a heartbeat.

Watch: Homes for Ukraine scheme could lead to 'homelessness crisis'

For Wendy Crouzieres and her husband, the idea of offering their spare bedroom to refugees came before the government even announced its Homes for Ukraine scheme.

She told Yahoo News UK: "Like everyone, we had been watching the news and seeing the plight of everyone in Ukraine. Even before the government suggested this scheme we said to each other, 'there must be something we can do'. Then, ironically, the next week the scheme came out.

"My daughter moved in with her fiance last year so we had a spare room all set up which my dad uses when he comes to stay. I work part-time and volunteer but I work from home some of the time so I'm around a lot and could help someone settle in."

Wendy Crouzieres (left) welcomed Liza ..... into her home. (Wendy Crouzieres)
Wendy Crouzieres (left) welcomed Liza into her home. (Wendy Crouzieres)

Crouzieres, who also has a 17-year-old son, joined a Facebook group that puts people in touch with Ukrainians wanting to come to the UK and it was there that she met Liza, a 19-year-old desperate to flee Ukraine.

The pair chatted via social media and on the phone, and Crouzieres also talked to Liza's mother - who insisted on staying in Ukraine with her husband, who is helping in the war effort, and their younger child, and they agreed Liza would come to the UK.

After a lengthy application process and a 24-hour journey, Liza arrived at Stansted Airport on 21 March, where Crouzieres was waiting for her.

"She had never flown in her life and she had a really hard time getting here. We were there waiting with a sign for her and she finally came through at about quarter to two in the morning," she said.

Read more: Chris Tarrant says it's 'absolutely delightful' having Ukraine refugees living with him

At the family's home in Catford, south east London, the Crouzieres had tried to make Liza's bedroom as personal as possible, buying special bedding and hanging a Ukrainian flag on the wall.

Liza is attending English lessons twice a week which she hopes will help her secure a job at some point, but in the meantime they use a handheld translator to communicate.

The family has worked to make their guest feel like part of the family - including celebrating her birthday when she recently turned 20.

"Lisa is not just a lodger in our home," said Crouzieres. "She is part of the family. We include her in every aspect."

Crouzieres and her family took Liza to Camber Sands, as well as encouraging her to try her first McDonald's milkshake. (Wendy Crouzieres)
Crouzieres and her family took Liza to Camber Sands, as well as encouraging her to try her first McDonald's milkshake. (Wendy Crouzieres)

"We went away to Camber Sands a couple of weeks ago and she saw the sea for the first time in seven years. She's had her first ever McDonald's milkshake too. We've cooked together, including making Ukrainian dumplings, and we play Ludo because you can play it in any language.

"For Liza's birthday we put up a huge banner in pink and bought her gifts that we thought she might find useful or appreciate - a hairdryer, a keyring, a burner for wax melts that she loves and a pineapple plant for her to care for.

"We all went out for a meal and Liza's boyfriend, who has also come to the UK and is living nearby, came too."

For Crouzieres, what her family is doing shouldn't be seen as a huge gesture, but the natural desire to help someone in need.

Read more: Benedict Cumberbatch confirms Ukrainian family on their way to live with him

While they haven't encountered any problems at all, the mum-of-two admits welcoming someone into your home from a war-torn country requires patience and understanding on both sides.

"Before Liza's arrival, we discussed a lot of dos and don'ts. We discussed the kinds of things we expected the kinds of things she'd want from us. For instance, I understand she needs space so when she says, 'I'm going up to my room', I leave her. She likes to do her own washing and clean her own room - she's very independent.

"Sometimes we eat together, sometimes we don't. Some days I've come home and Liza has cooked dinner for all of us."

Wendy Crouzieres tried to make Liza's bedroom as welcoming as possible for when she arrived from Ukraine. (Wendy Crouzieres)
Wendy Crouzieres tried to make Liza's bedroom as welcoming as possible for when she arrived from Ukraine. (Wendy Crouzieres)

While Liza gets to grips with English, Crouzieres has been there to help her, including when it comes to navigating public transport.

"She can understand quite a bit of English but it's hard for her sometimes - we've got the translator and we've had a few funny moments with that, plus one interesting incident with 'steak' seasoning when Liza was cooking."

Liza has also struggled at times - the Crouzieres' position on the flight path for planes coming in and out of London meant she woke up on her first few nights thinking she was back in Ukraine with Russian jets flying overhead.

Despite coming alone to the UK, she speaks to her family every day and has also recently found that a friend of hers lives five minutes away, so they can meet and catch up.

The 20-year-old, who has a medical diploma, hopes eventually to return to nursing, but in the meantime is keen to do any work she can get.

"My family here is so kind," she said. "I will stay here for now but eventually I want to stand on my own two feet."

'It's a calculated risk - you're taking in people you know nothing about.'

Another family to welcome Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn country is Mary Rose and her husband, John, who have welcomed Irina and teenage daughter Sofiia in to their home in south-west London.

Mary Rose, who is in her 60s, said the couple couldn't help but be moved by the situation in Ukraine, and had looked at the same website as her son and daughter-in-law to volunteer the use of space in their home to host two guests.

"When there's a war or famine or disaster in the world, you can't often help except for donating money," she told Yahoo News UK.

"But in this case, you could actually help in a much more practical way by taking in refugees. So it was a calculated risk - you're taking in people you really know nothing about but it was something that we were willing to do."

As a result, they welcomed Irina and Sofiia, who will turn 16 in July, to their home at Easter.

Mary Rose (centre right), with husband John, when they met their Ukrainian house guests for the first time at London's St Pancras station. (Image: Supplied)
Mary Rose (centre right), with husband John, when they met their Ukrainian house guests for the first time at London's St Pancras station. (Image: Supplied)

Since then, the mother and daughter have lived in their home, with Mary Rose and retired husband John helping them settle into the UK.

Mary Rose, who works part-time, said hosting a family required time and patience, from the paperwork and logistics required to help them get to the UK to then getting them settled, showing them around, setting them up with mobile phones, registering them with doctors and dentists, and helping them look for work.

"You certainly need the time," she said. "There are lots of hoops you have to go through."

The most time-consuming task was trying to get Sofiia - who suffered from leukaemia as a child so is a year behind in her studies - into school.

"She's actually very, very gifted at maths," she said. "She loves it and it seems to offer some kind of comfort and security for her."

Despite registering at a UK state school, Sofiia is still having online tutoring from her teachers back in Kyiv, getting up at 6am for the lessons.

"John gets up and makes her porridge first thing ready for her lessons," Mary Rose added. "Sofiia is quite reserved and keeps herself to herself but she does come up in the mornings for porridge and talks a lot to him."

A woman with a child boards a train to Dnipro and Lviv during an evacuation effort from war-affected areas of eastern Ukraine, amid Russia's invasion of the country. (Reuters)
A woman with a child boards a train to Dnipro and Lviv during an evacuation effort from war-affected areas of eastern Ukraine, amid Russia's invasion of the country. (Reuters)

When they first arrived, Irina and Sofiia - who left behind Sofiia's father and brother in Ukraine - ate all of their meals with Mary Rose and her husband but now tend to cook for themselves, occasionally taking their hosts up on invites to join them for dinner.

"We took them in on the understanding that they could be fairly independent, they've got their own cooking facilities and bathroom.

"For the first two weeks, they had every meal with us. But it wasn't really my idea to have guests with us for every single meal and cook for every meal so we invite them up once a week or so and they come and join us."

The family have also invited other families who are hosting Ukrainians round so the groups can meet up.

Irina, who worked for the government in Ukraine, doesn't speak English, meaning they have to rely on either handheld translators, Google Translate or by using Sofiia as an intermediary - something the teen can be left frustrated with at times.

"Funnily enough we can still have a good laugh, even though Irina doesn't really speak any English, but we have interesting exchanges. They speak Russian as their first language but also speak Ukrainian. I've got a couple of friends who teach English as a foreign language so one of them very kindly is giving Irina one or two lessons a week.

Russian invasion of Ukraine. (PA)
Russian invasion of Ukraine. (PA)

"Our local council has also been very good at arranging things. There was a big meeting for hosts quite early on with people from different departments giving advice, and there are also quite a lot of optional activities around here - cafes putting on free coffee and tea and cake once a week for Ukrainians, and people generously donating clothing.

"Poor Irina and Sofiia left Kyiv at very short notice with just backpacks so they arrived with very little."

People have donated clothes and shoes, as well as money, and Mary Rose said one neighbour - who fled from Russia herself when she was a teen - had invited Irina and Sofiia over for dinner as well as taking them out to restaurants.

"She left Russia when she was 19 and when she heard that we were hosting Ukrainians she said she wanted to help," she added.

"She bought them two brand new bicycles and she's also paying for their dental treatment which is incredibly generous."

Asked if hosting a Ukraine family is what she expected, Mary Rose admits she had no idea what to expect - a view shared by her son and daughter-in-law, who have also taken in a mother and her three-year-old daughter at his property in Bristol.

"You don't know anything about them. They're from a different culture," she said.

"My son and daughter-in-law are hosting a mother and a three year old who's the same age as his daughter - he said it would be a really interesting experience and that they'd always remember it. But he also said it was a calculated risk. So far it's worked out very well for them and they enjoy having them but, you know, it's early days."

The two families who became one

In Prenton, Merseyside, Nicole Ross virtually doubled the size of her family after welcoming mum Mila and her children Nazar, 12, and Tonya, 9, who had fled their home in Kyiv.

Like Crouzieres, Ross contacted Mila via Facebook after realising their children were of similar ages.

After a month of administrative delays, the family finally arrived at Liverpool airport on 23 April and moved in with the Ross family.

(L-R) Mum of three Nicole Ross with son Warren and daughter Lucy, Ukrainian mum Mila with son Nazar and daughter Tonya, and Nicole's daughter Taylor far right. (Reach)
(L-R) Mum of three Nicole Ross with son Warren and daughter Lucy, Ukrainian mum Mila with son Nazar and daughter Tonya, and Nicole's daughter Taylor far right. (Reach)

Ross, 41, moved her own children - Taylor, nine, and Warren, eight - into her bedroom so Mila and her children could have their own space.

She said: "I just can’t imagine having your whole life turned upside down overnight. I want to help them get settled, calm and comfortable and to start building a new normal for themselves.

"They were just doing the same thing as you and I, going about their business and then the very next day everything just changed for them. I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to do this."

Ross, who works as a programme manager at Amazon, said the initial few weeks had been a "whirlwind" as they helped their guests settle in, helping them sort out bank accounts, SIM cards and payments from the council.

The two mums, who are of a similar age, are also working hard to teach each other their different languages.

Meanwhile, children Tonya and Taylor spend time on TikTok together, while Nazar and Warren both like football.

The two families now share the same home. (Reach)
The two families now share the same home. (Reach)

Ross said: "I think the kids were nervous at first but they’re excited about having new friends. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for them.

"They can experience a different culture and get a wider world view, share different experiences and continue to develop their empathy for others."

The family have introduced their guests to British life, taking the family to a Tranmere football match, to parks and the beach at West Kirby.

"I think they like Merseyside so far," Ross added."It’s still all very new and they’re finding it quite overwhelming but the mum says it’s beautiful.

"Life’s definitely got busier and I’m having to be more organised! There’s a few more matches to go to at the weekends and a few more errands to do!

"It’s a lovely feeling to be able to do this and so far it’s been a really great experience. There’s going to be days where it’s a bit awkward and crowded and stressful but I’m just glad that I can help and it feels like the right thing to do. I couldn’t not do it!"

Reunited and living next door

While many Ukrainian families have been split apart by the invasion of their country, for two siblings the conflict has seen them reunited - living next door to each other.

Iryna Stanier, 34, moved to the UK in 2014 to study a PhD in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol, and still lives in the city with David Stanier, 33.

When Russia invaded Ukraine she was desperate to help her sister Olya Protsuik and family to escape.

Siblings Olya Protsuik, 37 (L) and Iryna Stanier, 34 (R) have been reunited in Bristol after Olya asked her neighbours if her sister could live in their empty house after fleeing Ukraine. (SWNS)
Siblings Olya Protsuik, 37 (L) and Iryna Stanier, 34 (R) have been reunited in Bristol after Iryna asked her neighbours if her sister could live in their empty house after fleeing Ukraine. (SWNS)

The property next door to her had become empty after its owner was moved into care by his family and when Stanier mentioned her family's plight to them they agreed to help her family.

Olya, 37, husband Vova Protsuik, 38, and their twins Dasha and Danya, both 15, and daughter Vira, six, fled from Ukraine to Poland to ensure Vira wouldn't have to go without her medicine for epilepsy, then the family later flew to Bristol where the sisters now live next door to each other.

Stanier said: "We had a talk with the neighbours before the family arrived - we have a three bed house and they are a family of five so we knew it would be a bit of a squeeze.

"I sent my husband around to ask if we could use the property if we paid some rent but they came back to us and said it's yours to use. They said to make it our home and do what we want."

Olya and Iryana with their families outside their homes. See SWNS story SWOCsisters; Two Ukrainian sisters have been reunited and now live next door to each other in Britain - thanks to the help of generous neighbours. Siblings Olya Protsuik, 37, and Iryna Stanier, 34, have moved in side by side in Bristol. Iryna was already living in the UK with husband David Stanier, 33, after moving here in 2014 to study a PhD in Aerospace Engineering at University of Bristol. But she became desperate when Russia invaded Ukraine - and wanted to help her sister and family escape. The property next door had become empty after its owner was moved into care by his family - and she mentioned her plight to them. She told then about her sister Olya, her husband Vova Protsuik, 38, and their twins Dasha and Danya, both 15, and daughter Vira, six.
The families now live next door to each other, giving them their own space as well as the comfort of family nearby. (SWNS)

She said her sister's family are already settling in, having their own space as well as the comfort of family nearby.

The twins are enrolled in a local school where they will start to study for their A-levels as well as learning English.

"Vova is already working in a local pub as a kitchen assistant and Olya had a bakery in Ukraine and wants to do the same here," she added.

"She's already done some fundraising for Ukraine since being here and has raised £300 through bake sales."

Finding a job in the UK

Ukrainian mum Valeriia Starkova became one of the first refugees to find work in the UK after fleeing war-torn Kharkiv. She started her job as a beautician - and her boss is already singing her praises.

Starkova, 37, fled Ukraine with her family, moving into a house in Cambridgeshire in March, and quickly found work as a beautician.

Valeriia applied for the job via Indeed and stood out among ten top applicants, according to beauty salon boss Charlotte Liddiard. She's now working full-time as a nail specialist and has a busy list of clients this week. Beauty salon boss Charlotte Liddiard said:
Valeriia Starkova arrived in the UK in March and got a job the following month working full-time as a nail specialist. (SWNS)

The mum of two, who did the same job in Ukraine, started work at a salon in Cambridge in April and said it felt "fantastic".

"I was hoping that I would get the job I love," she said. "I was nervous that I wouldn't understand clients and what they want but after I finished the course here I saw that it's quite similar and the clients are actually really nice and they help me a lot.

"The hardest part was doing my CV. It took me two or three days but without a CV you can't find a job obviously."

Starkova, who has two children Alikhan, 10, and Kamila, 12, moved with nine Ukrainian relatives into a house in Cambridgeshire that was offered to them rent-free by local businessman Mick Swinhoe, who sponsored the family's visa application.

The four generational family - ranging in age from ten to 90 - drove for three weeks through 13 countries to arrive in the UK at the end of March.

Valeriia applied for the job via Indeed and stood out among ten top applicants, according to beauty salon boss Charlotte Liddiard. (SWNS)
Valeriia applied for the job via Indeed and stood out among ten top applicants, according to beauty salon boss Charlotte Liddiard. (SWNS)

Starkova's boss Charlotte Liddiard, who opened CSL salon in Cambridge last April, said: "Her application stood out. She sent a covering letter with her CV explaining her passion for the job.

"It just felt like the right thing. I saw her work on her Instagram page and it was fantastic.

She added: "Obviously it's nice to help. You have empathy with what's going on. It's just nice to be able to help and do something otherwise you feel pretty helpless.

"It might be a little thing for me but it's a big thing for her. She's got kids and a family - you imagine yourself in that position."

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